The Best Music of 2021 🎵

My favorite 12 albums and 50 songs of pandemic year, the sequel

Here’s the playlist of my favorite 50 songs of 2021 (list below, along with top 12 albums)

Kind of an odd year we just had. In some ways, it was a kind of 2020: The Sequel. Except this time around with vaccines and some sense of renewed optimism, albeit coupled with the dual exhaustion of a full year in and the additional wrinkle of learning how many people trusted their own research and not vaccines.

Music often reacts to the state of the world in opposing ways, either as reflection of the current atmosphere or an uplifting distraction to take listeners to a place they’d rather be than the present moment. Much of last year’s music, of 2020, would have been written and recorded pre-pandemic, or at least early stages of the pandemic. But the music of 2021 was almost certainly created mid-pandemic, when the new normal just became day-to-day life, and current state of things had time to seep into the music being created.

Even just looking at the titles of albums in 2021 — We’re All Alone in This Together, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Actual Life, If I Could Make it Go Quiet, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, Call Me If You Get Lost — there’s a sense of introspection and despair that’s made its way into music that felt less present in 2020.

Top 12 Albums of 2021

My 12 favorite albums of 2021 (Charlie Kubal)
My 12 Favorite Albums of 2021 (Charlie Kubal)

12. middle kids - today we’re the greatest
11. berwyn - tape 2/fomalhaut
10. j. cole - the off-season
9. olivia rodrigo - sour
8. little simz -sometimes i might be introvert
7. the war on drugs - i don’t live here anymore
6. girl in red - if i could make it go quiet
5. slowthai - tyron
4. tyler the creator - call me if you get lost
3. dave - we’re all alone in this together
2. kanye west - donda (deluxe)
1. fred again.. - actual life (april 14-december 17 2020)

I was on a bit of a UK hip-hop kick this year, and actually have more international (7) than American (5) artists on my top albums list this year. Songs with narratives and albums that told stories resonated especially strongly with me this year, and the sense of human connection inhearing people tell their stories felt even more valuable than it usually does.

My favorite album of the year came from Fred Again.., who previously worked closely with Brian Eno, produced and wrote for pop singers, and then made this album based on small spoken pieces from his friends in WhatsApp voicenotes and things he found on the internet. He pulled the melodic tones from their speech and crafted richly-textured songs around them, and his interview on Tape Notes was one of my favorite music discussions of the last several years.

I listened to less music than most years — part of it being that not as much resonated with me, and also that I find listening to music to be a more frequent solo, introspective activity for me. The music of this year that I did appreciate were mostly tracks I put on playlists to listen to before going to sleep, working out, or taking walks or drives, and most all of these tracks I can identify as falling into one of those three categories.

I’ve believed for a long time that every situation has a perfect song or collection of songs to match, and as the variety of our experiences condenses, so too does the variety of songs we consume. This is actually another unfortunate unrealized consequence of the pandemic, and kind of tragic: the diminishing of our collective experiential variety.

I’d naively imagined when this was over, there’d be a grand reopening, with people would be partying in the streets, but am realizing now that there won’t such a clearly delineated moment in time marking the end of the pandemic. While we may not have the celebration that comes with a simultanous exhale of relief, I am much more optimistic this year than I was last year at this time, both personally and cautiously so for all of us, collectively.

These tracks were my soundtrack through 2021. I hope if you have a chance to listen through that some of them similarly provide the perfect song at the right time, whatever your present experience may be.

Top 50 tracks of 2021

(Spotify playlist link)

50. to be loved - berwyn
49. we made it. - david hugo
48. sonya ft emeli sande - ghetts
47. come to life - kanye west
46. paradise - bazzi
45. rom com 2004 - soccer mommy
44. bruuuh (remix) ft denzel curry - JID
43. tiramisu - ché
42. musician - porter robinson
41. cheesin’ ft remi wolf, sophie meiers, still woozy, claud, melanie faye, HXNS - cautious clay
40. change shapes ft jesse - rebounder
39. suvs (black on black) - jack harlow & pooh shiesty
38. nobody ft lauryn hill - nas
37. deep end - fousheé
36. he said she said - chvrches
35. peaches ft daniel caesar & giveon - justin bieber
34. three rivers - dave
33. believe what i say - kanye west
32. rumors ft cardi b - lizzo
31. don’t forget your neighborhood ft the avalanches - cola boyy
30. spinning ft charli xcx & the 1975 - no rome
29. better believe ft the weeknd & young thug - belly
28. people watching - conan gray
27. both sides of a smile ft james blake - dave
26. good 4 u - olivia rodrigo
25. new shapes ft chritine and the queens & caroline polachek - charli xcx
24. i’d rather die than be deported - berwyn
23. count on me - brockhampton
22. something has to change - the japanese house
21. how not to drown ft robert smith - chvrches
20. introvert - little simz
19. family ties ft kendrick lamar - baby keem
18. when this was all new - russ
17. last day on earth - beabadoobee
16. forever&more - role model
15. baxter (these are my friends) - fred again..
14. issues - baby keem
13. lord i need you - kanye west
12. push ft deb never - slowthai
11. nikes - julia wolf
10. teal - wunderhorse
9. good ones - charlie xcx
8. stay ft justin bieber - the kid laroi
7. industry baby ft jack harlow - lil nas x
6. dermot (see yourself in my eyes) ft dermot kennedy - fred again..
5. life of the party ft andre 3000 - kanye west
4. wilshire - tyler, the creator
3. serotonin - girl in red
2. dancing in the kitchen - lany
1. kyle (northern life) - fred again..

🙏 Thank you’s go out to to everyone who shared music with me this year, and especially to Ramsay Kubal, Nathan Carter, Marie Sbrocca, Nicholas Pajerski, Hillary Bush, and Ramon Simms for sending me new music as they found it.

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charlie kubal

design products, make records, read/write/think. hip-hop, fitness, investing. product @roblox (via sway) cofounder @getchronos (💰 @life360 ) @ideo @stanfordgsb